The Crimean region voted yesterday about whether to demand greater autonomy from Ukraine or split off and seek to join Russia, in a referendum that has been condemned as illegal by the US and European countries.
The vote took place several weeks after Russian-led forces took control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region. Its residents say they fear the Ukrainian government that took over when pro-Russia former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.
Russia raised the stakes on Saturday when its forces took control of a village near the border with Crimea.
Ukrainian Border Guard spokesperson Serhiy Astakhov said yesterday that Ukrainian forces retook control of the village on Saturday evening after negotiations with the Russian forces.
If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations, but Moscow has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea.
In Sevastopol, Crimea’s key port and the site of a Russian naval base, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting yesterday.
Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under the control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.
Crimea’s pro-Russia authorities say that if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons do not surrender after yesterday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”
However, acting Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyuk said in an interview published yesterday by the Interfax news agency that “this is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land.”
Meanwhile, the defence ministries of Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a truce in Crimea until Friday, Ukraine’s acting defence minister said yesterday.
“An agreement has been reached with [Russia’s] Black Sea Fleet and the Russian Defence Ministry on a truce in Crimea until March 21,” acting Ukrainian Minister of Defense Ihor Tenyukh told journalists.
“No measures will be taken against our military facilities in Crimea during that time. Our military sites are therefore proceeding with a replenishment of reserves,” he said.